Wednesday, January 18, 2012

JSF may miss acceleration Goals

The F-35 Lightning II may not meet acceleration goals, a Lockheed Martin official said.

The F-35 Lightning II’s transonic acceleration may not meet the requirements originally set forth for the program, a top Lockheed Martin official said.
“Based on the original spec, all three of the airplanes are challenged by that spec,” said Tom Burbage, Lockheed’s program manager for the F-35. “The cross-sectional area of the airplane with the internal weapons bays is quite a bit bigger than the airplanes we’re replacing.”
The sharp rise in wave drag at speeds between Mach 0.8 and Mach 1.2 is one of the most challenging areas for engineers to conquer. And the F-35’s relatively large cross-sectional area means, that as a simple matter of physics, the jet can’t quite match its predecessors.
“We’re dealing with the laws of physics. You have an airplane that’s a certain size, you have a wing that’s a certain size, you have an engine that’s a certain size, and that basically determines your acceleration characteristics,” Burbage said. “I think the biggest question is: are the acceleration characteristics of the airplane operationally suitable?”
A recent report by the Defense Department’s top tester, J. Michael Gilmore, says that the Navy’s F-35C model aircraft, which has larger wing and tail surfaces, is not meeting requirements for acceleration.
The report doesn’t say whether the F-35A and F-35B have hit similar snags.
Richard Aboulafia, an analyst with the Teal Group, Fairfax, Va., said that the revelation was not particularly surprising.
“It’s a strike fighter,” Aboulafia said. “It’s not an interceptor; it’s not an F-22.”
Aboulafia said it was unclear whether additional engine power could boost acceleration in the difficult transonic regime. So far, doubts about the aircraft’s aerodynamic performance haven’t diminished Lockheed’s sales prospects, he said.
The F-35 transonic acceleration specifications were written based on clean-configuration F-16 Fighting Falcon and F/A-18 Hornet fighter, Burbage said.
But unlike the Hornet or the F-16, the F-35 has the same configuration unloaded as it does loaded with weapons and fuel, Burbage said. When an F/A-18 or F-16 is encumbered with weapons, pylons and fuel tanks, those jets are robbed of much of their performance.
“What is different is that this airplane has accelerational characteristics with a combat load that no other airplane has, because we carry a combat load internally,” Burbage said, the F-22 Raptor notwithstanding.
Even fully loaded, the F-35’s performance doesn’t change from its unencumbered configuration, he said.
In the high subsonic range between Mach 0.6 to Mach 0.9 where the majority of air combat occurs, the F-35’s acceleration is better than almost anything flying.
Thus far, Lockheed has not had issues with the plane’s acceleration, Burbage said. There are top level Key Performance Parameters from which lower level detailed engineering specification are derived and Lockheed’s job is to meet as many of those specifications as possible within the laws of physics, he said. Discussions are underway about if those original specifications are relevant given the jet’s acceleration in a combat configuration, Burbage added.
Air Force Lt. Col. Eric Smith, director of operations at the 58th Fighter Squadron at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., and F-35 test pilot, said that flying the aircraft is a thrilling experience.
“I can’t even explain the adrenaline rush you get when you light the afterburner on that thing,” Smith said. “The acceleration is much better than an F-16.”
But the F-35’s aerodynamic performance is not what makes the jet special, Smith said. The F-35 powerful sensors and data-links and how that information is fused into a single coherent and easy to use display are what will make the jet an effective warplane.
Burbage added that while the F-35 is designed as a supersonic fighter, it’s not optimized for the extremely high supersonic speeds that the Raptor was designed to operate at.
“This is not a supercruising airplane like the F-22,” Burbage said.

U.S. prepared for Hormuz Action

WASHINGTON — The United States is “fully prepared” for any confrontation with Iran over the strategic Strait of Hormuz, but hopes a dispute would be resolved peacefully, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said Jan. 18.
“We obviously always continue to make preparations to be prepared for any contingency, but we are not making any special steps ... because we’re fully prepared to deal with that situation now,” Panetta told reporters.
Tehran threatened to close the strait — a chokepoint for one-fifth of the world’s traded oil — late last month, in the event of a military strike or severe tightening of international sanctions over its disputed nuclear program.
Washington is beefing up its naval presence in waters just outside the Gulf in response to the threats.
“We have always maintained a very strong presence in that region. We have a Navy fleet located there,” Panetta said.
“We have a military presence in that region ... to make very clear that we were going to do everything possible to help secure the peace in that part of the world.”
The defense chief said Washington has been clear on its effort to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon and from closing the Strait of Hormuz.
“Our goal has always been to make very clear that we would hope that any differences that we have, any concerns we have can be peacefully resolved and done through international laws and international rules,” he said.
“We abide by those international laws and international rules. We would hope that Iran would do the same.”
He declined to comment on a report which said Washington had sent a letter to Iran regarding its threatened closure of the waterway, but said “we have channels in which we deal with the Iranians, and we continue to use those channels.”
On Jan. 13, the New York Times, citing unnamed U.S. officials, reported that Washington had used a secret channel to warn Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei that closing the narrow strategic waterway would cross a “red line” and provoke a response.
Panetta said the postponement of joint military exercises with Israel came at the request of his Israeli counterpart, Ehud Barak.
“Minister Barak approached me and indicated that they were interested in postponing the exercise,” he said.
“We looked at it and determined that in order to be able to plan better and to do this so that we would be able to conduct that exercise that it would be better to postpone.”
Israeli officials said on Jan. 16 that the postponement was because of regional tensions and instability, and that the drill will probably take place in the second half of 2012.
The joint maneuver was to have been the biggest yet between the two allies and was seen as an opportunity to display their joint military strength at a time of growing concern about Tehran’s nuclear ambitions.
But it was to come at a time of rising tensions over Iran’s nuclear program, which Israel, Washington and much of the international community believe masks a weapons drive.

Chinese Virus hits DoD access cards

A Chinese-based cyber attack is targeting the U.S. Defense Department’s Common Access Cards with technology that could steal information from military networks while troops and civilians work at their desks, researchers say.
The new cyber weapon apparently can get inside individual computers after users unwittingly open a standard PDF email file. Once embedded, it logs the users’ keystrokes to obtain personal identification numbers or codes associated with that card and user, according to AlienVault, a Silicon Valley-based cyber security firm.
“Basically, they are able to steal the PIN and then they can get access to whatever they want,” said Jaime Blasco, the lab manager for AlienVault who published detailed technical information about the attack.
The attacks are a variant of a virus, or malware, known as “Sykipot” and date back as far as March 2011, Blasco said.
The new Sykipot strain specifically targets the technology used to support the Pentagon’s CAC system and the emails seeking to spread it often are disguised as official military or government communications, Blasco said.
To lure defense workers to open the infected attachment, some of the emails have used information about new drone technology and pictures of unmanned aerial vehicles, he said.
The hackers behind the virus can access military systems only as long as an infected user’s card remains logged into a system.
Pentagon spokeswoman Air Force Lt. Col. April Cunningham declined to comment on the details published by AlienVault.
“We are aware of reports regarding this matter and take these type of reports seriously. However, due to operational security, we are not able to provide further details,” she told Military Times.
Blasco said the virus is linked to a “command and control server” that appears to be based in China; some flaws buried deep in the code revealed Chinese language characters, suggesting that only a Chinese speaker would be able to launch it.
Defending against attacks using this technology is extremely difficult. The best way to keep military networks secure is to train troops and civilian employees not to open any unfamiliar files or email attachments, Blasco said.
Many military officials are eager to begin widespread use of smart phones, tablets and other wireless devices, but cyber security experts caution that such technology can be more vulnerable to cyber attacks.

India and China agree to pursue border issues

NEW DELHI — Six months after resuming military exchanges, India and China have agreed on a mechanism for resolving their long-standing boundary dispute.
The two countries signed a pact to establish a “Working Mechanism for Consultation and Coordination on India-China Border Affairs.” The agreement, signed by India’s ambassador to China, S. Jaishankar, and Chinese Assistant Foreign Minister Liu Zhenmin, was finalized here Jan. 17 at the conclusion of the 15th meeting of the Special Representatives on the boundary question between Indian National Security Adviser Shiv Shankar Menon and Chinese State Councilor Dai Bingguo.
The working mechanism will “study ways and means to conduct and strengthen exchanges and cooperation between military personnel and establishments of the two sides in the border areas,” an Indian Foreign Ministry official said.
“The Working Mechanism will address issues and situations that may arise in the border areas that affect the maintenance of peace and tranquility and will work actively toward maintaining the friendly atmosphere between the two countries,” the agreement states.
Sources in the Indian Defence Ministry said the agreement will basically devise a mechanism to establish better military-to-military contacts, which will help ease tensions at the border. There have been dozens of reported incidents of Chinese troops crossing into Indian territory. The Indian Foreign Ministry has denied most of these reports, but analysts here say New Delhi is simply trying to calm rising emotions over the incidents.
The dispute between India and China involves the longest contested boundary in the world. China claims 92,000 square kilometers of territory that is also claimed by India.
The border is currently defined by a 4,056-kilometer Line of Actual Control (LAC), which is marked neither on the ground nor on mutually accepted maps. Efforts to establish an LAC recognized by both countries have made little headway since the mid-1980s.
Both China and India, which fought a brief war over the boundary dispute in 1962, have been building up their defense forces.

Iraq and Egypt talk to boost military cooperation

CAIRO — Egypt’s military ruler Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi on Jan. 18 held talks with Iraqi Defence Minister Saadun al-Dulaimi on ways of boosting military ties between the two nations, officials said.
Talks centered on “training Iraqi officers and exchanging military expertise,” as well as regional and international efforts to support stability in Iraq, one source said.
The meeting was attended by armed forces chief of staff Lt. Gen. Sami Annan and several members of the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces which took over after president Hosni Mubarak’s ouster last year.
More than 200 people have been killed in Iraq since U.S. forces completed their withdrawal last month from the country.
Since then the country has been in the throes of a festering dispute between the Shiite-led government and ministers from the Sunni-backed Iraqi bloc with analysts warning violence could rise if the row is not contained.

Lockheed Touts Fix for F-35 Fuel Dump

Lockheed Martin has found a way to fix the F-35 Lightning II’s fuel dump system, eliminating a potential fire hazard, a top company official said.
“We expect to have that configuration change back in the test airplane early this year,” said Tom Burbage, Lockheed’s Joint Strike Fighter program manager. “The permanent modification that will go into all the production airplanes will be tested by the second quarter of this year.”
The current test aircraft fleet has an interim solution installed, Burbage said.
In conventional aircraft, fuel can be dumped through a mast that ejects the fluid away from the aircraft’s surfaces. But to keep the F-35 stealthy, the design pumped fuel out forcefully from a valve that is flush with the wing, Burbage said. This design allowed a portion of dumped fuel to move back toward the aircraft’s structure. On the Marine Corps’ F-35B version of the aircraft in particular, the fuel could flow too close to the roll-post ducts, part of the short-takeoff-and-vertical-landing system, and potentially ignite.
The problem came to light in a November report to acting Pentagon procurement czar Frank Kendall compiled by the Defense Department’s top operational tester, J. Michael Gilmore.

"Attack on Iran would be catastrophe " says Russia

MOSCOW — Russia on Jan. 18 said a military strike on Iran would be a “catastrophe” with the severest consequences that risked inflaming existing tensions between Sunni and Shiite Muslims.
Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov also accused the West of trying to suffocate the Iranian economy and incite popular discontent with new sanctions such as a proposed oil embargo.
“As for the chances of this catastrophe happening, you would have to ask those constantly mentioning it as an option that remains on the table,” Lavrov said when asked about the chances of military action.
Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak had earlier said his country was not even close to deciding to attack Iran over its nuclear weapons program and still believed that a military option remained “very far away.”
Lavrov told an annual foreign policy briefing that the chances of war were too dire too contemplate because they would incite intercommunal tensions in the region and flood neighboring countries with Iranian refugees.
“I have no doubt in the fact that it will only add fuel to the fire of the still-simmering Sunni-Shiite conflict. And I do not know where the subsequent chain reaction will end, Lavrov said.
“There will be large flows of refugees from Iran, including to Azerbaijan, and from Azerbaijan to Russia. ... This will not be a walk in the park,” he said of possible military involvement.
Lavrov added that punitive sanctions aimed at winning more transparency from Iran had “exhausted” themselves and only hurt the chances of peace.
“Additional unilateral sanctions against Iran have nothing to do with a desire to ensure the regime’s commitment to nuclear non-proliferation,” Lavrov said. “It is seriously aimed at suffocating the Iranian economy and the well being of its people, probably in the hope of inciting discontent.”
His comments came as European Union diplomats closed in on a July date for a full oil embargo that would suit nations such as Italy with a strong reliance on Iranian supplies.
Lavrov said Russia had evidence that Iran was ready to cooperate closely with inspectors from the United Nations IAEA nuclear watchdog and was preparing for “serious talks” with the West.
He also hinted that Europe and the United States were imposing the measures with the specific purpose of torpedoing new rounds of talks.
Russia has been one of the few world powers to enjoy open access to senior Iranian leaders and on Jan. 18 hosted its Supreme National Security Council deputy chief Ali Bagheri.
The Iranian embassy said Bagheri would hold talks with Lavrov and discuss the option of resuming nuclear negotiations with the five permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany.
Moscow was also due to receive Iranian Interior Minister Mostafa Mohammad Najjar on Jan. 22 for talks focusing on domestic security issues and drug trafficking.
Tehran’s ambassador to Moscow for his part said he expected Russia’s support to continue because it too was being threatened by the West.
“We expect Russia not to agree to a deal with the West,” Iranian Ambassador Mahmoud Reza Sajjadi told the Interfax news agency.
“If there are (non-Western) countries that want to see Iran become a victim of the West, they must understand that the West will get to them too,” said Sajjadi. “We hope that the Russian government and the Russian people will take note of this.”

Syria accuses Qatar of arming Rebels

DAMASCUS, Syria — Syria’s state-owned media on Jan. 18 accused Qatar of arming and financing opponents of President Bashar al-Assad’s regime.
Qatar’s call to send Arab troops to the country “falls within the framework of the negative role played by Qatar since the start of this crisis... through the financing of armed groups,” the Tishrin newspaper charged.
The Gulf state “can help Syria get out of its crisis ... by stopping its financing of armed (groups) and the trafficking of weapons” to insurgents, wrote the daily.
Qatar’s emir, Sheikh Hamad Ben Khalifa al-Thani, said in an interview that he backs sending Arab troops to Syria, where the regime has been trying to crush a democracy protest movement with brutal force for the past 10 months.
Arab League Secretary General Nabil al-Arabi said the idea could come up for discussion at the next meeting of the pan-Arab body at its Cairo headquarters on Jan. 21-22.
The Arab bloc is expected to discuss the future of its widely criticized observer mission to Syria, where the United Nations says the regime’s crackdown on protests has cost more than 5,400 lives since March.
Damascus routinely blames the violence in Syria on “armed groups” and “terrorists” backed by foreign powers pursuing an agenda of regime change in the country.
Tishrin also accused Qatar of blocking any solution to the crisis in order to “ramp up international pressure” on Damascus.
The daily also accused Qatar of “manipulating information” on Syria through its satellite television channel Al-Jazeera.
The accusations come one day after Damascus flatly rejected Qatar’s proposal to send troops to Syria.
“Syria rejects the statements of officials of Qatar on sending Arab troops to worsen the crisis ... and pave the way for foreign intervention,” the foreign ministry said.
“The Syrian people refuse any foreign intervention in any name. They will oppose any attempt to undermine the sovereignty of Syria and the integrity of its territory,” the ministry added.

F-35C Tailhook Design Blamed for Landing Issues

Lockheed Martin has traced issues with the F-35C's tailhook problem to design and is correcting it, the company said.Lockheed Martin has traced the U.S. Navy F-35C Joint Strike Fighter’s troubles with catching a carrier’s arresting gear wires to the tailhook design.
Efforts to fix the problem are well underway, a top company official said.
“The good news is that it’s fairly straight forward and isolated to the hook itself,” said Tom Burbage, Lockheed program manager for the F-35 program. “It doesn’t have secondary effects going into the rest of the airplane.”

Moreover, the rest of the design of the tailhook system, which include the doors and bay that conceal the device and other ancillary hardware, is sound, Burbage said.
“What we are trying to do is make sure that we got the actual design of the hook is optimized so that it in fact repeatedly picks up the wire as long the airplane puts itself in position to do that,” he said.
A preliminary review has already been completed and was done in conjunction with the Naval Air Systems Command and F-35 Joint Program Office.
Burbage said the hook system is already being modified in accordance with the new test data.
“We’re modifying the hook to accommodate what we found so far in test,” Burbage said. “The new parts, we expect to have them back in the next couple of months.”
Tests with the newly modified tailhook should start at Lakehurst, N.J, in the second quarter of this year, Burbage said.
That will give the F-35 program another set of data to study to make sure the new design works as promised. However, until those tests are done, there is no ironclad guarantee that the redesign of the tailhook will work, but Burbage said he is confident of that the modified design will be successful.
“The big test for this airplane is not until the summer of ’13 when we take the Navy jet out to the big deck carrier and do actual traps at sea,” Burbage said.
Burbage dismisses claims that the F-35C will be unable to land on a carrier as falsehoods.
“That’s patently not true,” he said.

Richard Aboulafia, an analyst at the Teal Group, Fairfax, Va., said the claim that the F-35C could never land on a ship was always highly dubious.
“They turned the YF-17 into a carrier plane, why couldn’t they correct carrier-hook problems here?” he said. “This does not appear to be a killer problem.”
Flight testing is designed to uncover and fix problems with a new aircraft, Aboulafia said.
“This is the kind of problem that might come out during the flight testing of a carrier-based plane,” he said.
Aboulafia added that the F-35 is an extremely ambitious program with its three variants — technical problems are par for the course.
The reason the problem with the hook arose in the first place is because of the inherent constraints of building a stealth fighter, said Burbage. The F-35 is the first naval stealth fighter and as such, Lockheed had the unique challenge of designing the jet with a tail-hook that had to be concealed when it’s not being used.
Because the tail-hook has to fit within the outer mold line of the F-35, the device had to be fitted further forward on the jet’s ventral surface than on other naval aircraft, Burbage said. The result is that the hook behaves differently than on previous fighters like the F/A-18.
In an ideal world, an arresting-hook will catch a wire 100 percent of the time, however in the real world that doesn’t happen due to various dynamic forces, the veteran former Navy test pilot said.

In the case of the F-35, one of those dynamic forces includes the way the wires react when the jet passes over them. The wire reacts in a sine wave pattern, Burbage said. “The time differential between when the main gear rolls over the cable and the time the hook picks up the cable on a more convention airplane, there is more time for that wave to damp out,” he said. “In the case of the F-35, one of our design constraints is that hook just has to be closer to the main landing gear than on a conventional aircraft because of the requirement to hide it inside the airplane.”
Another factor that effects landing on a carrier is the sheer force of the impact from a carrier landing. Unlike conventional land-based aircraft, naval aircraft don’t flare on landing. While the landing is on a more precise spot, it causes the tail-hook to oscillate vertically- which increases the chances that it won’t catch a wire, Burbage said. The dampening of that motion has to be tweaked, he said.
The shape of the hook itself also has an effect on the probability of catching a wire, he added. All of these are being tweaked to increase the chances that the F-35C will catch a wire on a carrier’s deck.
“We’re doing a redesign of the hook to increase the probability the hook will engage the wire a high percentage of the time,” Burbage said.

EADS Chief: French Support of UAV ‘Encouraging’

HAMBURG, Germany — The French Defense Minister’s preference for a broad European scope to a planned Anglo-French medium-altitude long-altitude UAV was a positive sign for EADS, Chief Executive Louis Gallois of the European company said Jan. 17.
“You have seen Mr. Longuet was pushing for a program with other European countries, including Germany and Italy,” Gallois told journalists on the sidelines of a joint New Year’s press conference by EADS and Airbus, here.
“I think it’s encouraging for us to push the way we’re pushing,” Gallois said.
Defense Minister Gérard Longuet told the French aerospace press club Jan. 9 the Anglo-French project “should accept the construction of Europe.
“We can’t ignore countries with industrial capabilities. We’ll probably have an Anglo-French project which cannot avoid opening to other European partners,” Longuet said.
France would not develop the EADS Talarion Advanced UAV, Longuet said.
Gallois has urged the British and French governments to open up a proposed new MALE UAV to include EADS and other European partners, to avoid a repetition of the Eurofighter Typhoon versus Rafale dogfight which has divided European industry into an internecine battle for foreign sales.
“Talarion is a prototype, it’s not a final project,” Gallois said.
A top priority for EADS in its talks with the governments of its “home countries” was to preserve research and development capabilities through the launch of new program, made possible by cuts in some defense orders, Gallois said.
The Talarion UAV was a potential for such new program support, he said.
EADS is waiting for a decision from the German government for a go ahead with Talarion, a company spokesman said. EADS has some 160 engineers working on UAVs and is funding the work on company money. In the face of defense budget cuts in Europe, one of EADS’ priorities for 2012 was to increase export efforts and grow its “global footprint,” Gallois said.
The company was also in talks with home country governments, particularly Germany, on “existing and valid” military contracts, he said.
Germany has said it wants to cut the orders for Tiger attack and NH90 transport utility helicopters.
“We have to discuss with them,” Gallois said. “We have our interest to defend regarding workload in our facilities, profitability, future of the product, the balance between Germany and other countries “We include in that the possibility to be part of new programs which could be financed with part of the savings on quantities. It means we are open to discussion,” Gallois said.
“As always, we want to have that decision as quickly as possible as we don’t like uncertainty,” he said.
EADS and Finmeccanica signed a deal in December to team on UAV development, reflecting wider discontent in Italy and Germany over the Anglo-French defense accord reached on Nov. 2, 2010.
The planned Anglo-French MALE drone was one of the projects included in the bilateral treaty. BAE Systems and Dassault have formed a joint venture to bid for the joint UAV program.

Airbus: A400M Interim Service Deal Expected Soon

An Airbus A400M takes off at the Toulouse-Blagnac airport in Blagnac, France last October.
An Airbus A400M takes off at the Toulouse-Blagnac airport in Blagnac, France last October. / Pascal Pavani / AFP via Getty Images
HAMBURG, Germany — Airbus expects to reach an agreement on an interim service contract for the A400M airlifter in a matter of weeks, Fabrice Bregier, chief operating officer of the European aircraft maker, said Jan. 17.
Talks with France for a maintenance contract have dragged on for months. In October, French procurement chief Laurent Collet-Billon to threatened to withhold payment if a service support deal was not ready when the first transport aircraft is delivered to the air force.
“We hope to finalize in the coming weeks,” Bregier said at a joint Airbus-EADS press conference here.
Bregier said the initial deal would be an interim agreement to be extended to the full fleet for Britain and France, the first countries to take delivery of the four-engine A400M aircraft.
The talks have been complicated by difficulties between prime contractor Airbus and the companies in the Europrop International (EPI) engine consortium, French Defense Minister Gérard Longuet said Jan. 9.
“On engine maintenance, everyone is looking at everyone else and wondering what risk he can reasonably take on,” Longuet told the French aerospace press club.
“What we want is a global service agreement with someone who signs and assumes an undertaking,” Longuet said. “On the other side, companies are looking at each other and saying this is going to cost a fortune in lawyers and experts.”
Airbus Military, a subsidiary of Airbus and EADS, makes the A400M. EPI builds the plane’s TP400-D6 engine. The EPI consortium includes ITP of Spain, MTU of Germany, Rolls-Royce of Britain, and Snecma of France’s Safran group.
EADS CEO Louis Gallois said earlier the A380 superjumbo airliner and A400M programs “are now on track.”
Those programs would help boost EADS’ profitability in 2012. Higher aircraft deliveries, improving prices, cost-savings programs and ambitious profitability targets at the division level would also help, he said.
Under a revised scheduled, France is due to take delivery of the first A400M in 2013, with Britain to follow in 2014. Airbus Military hopes to ship the French aircraft by the end of this year, ahead of the contracted date.
France announced at the Paris Air Show in June a memorandum of understanding to cover A400M maintenance, with common support to be shared by Britain and France. Germany has made its own national arrangements for service.

India Hopes To Unveil Fighter Deal in 2 Weeks

NEW DELHI — India hopes to unveil within two weeks the winner of a $12-billion fighter jet deal for which France’s Dassault and the Eurofighter consortium are on a final short list, the air force said Jan. 17.
“Right now we have to do the selection for who is going to be the short-listed vendor,” Indian Air Force chief N.A.K. Browne said in New Delhi. “I am hopeful that in another two weeks time, we will be able to short list the name,” Browne told reporters on the sidelines of a military function, the Press Trust of India news agency reported.
The contract is one of the biggest under consideration in the global defense aviation industry at the moment.
The air force chief said final commercial negotiations would only start after India announced the lowest bidder.
Officials say “life-cycle” maintenance costs of each plane will determine the winner of the deal. The contract is for the outright purchase of 18 combat aircraft with another 108 to be built in India with options to acquire more.
India last April cut out U.S. bidders Boeing and Lockheed Martin as well as dropping Sweden’s Saab AB and the Russian makers of the MiG 35 from the race.
Such a large order attracted intense lobbying during visits to India last year by U.S. President Barack Obama, French President Nicolas Sarkozy, British Prime Minister David Cameron and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev.
India, the biggest importer of military hardware among emerging nations, issued the request for proposals in 2007 and trials of aircraft from the six companies competing for the deal began a year later.

U.S., Allies Plot Next Steps on Post-Kim N. Korea

WASHINGTON — Senior officials from the United States and close allies South Korea and Japan met Jan. 17 to coordinate their next steps on North Korea amid deep concern following the death of leader Kim Jong-Il.
The United States was considering a new engagement drive with North Korea when Kim suddenly died on Dec. 17, leaving control of the isolated and nuclear-armed state to his young and inexperienced son Kim Jong-Un.
Kurt Campbell, the top U.S. diplomat on Asia, went into a day of closed-door talks with his Japanese counterpart Shinsuke Sugiyama and Lim Sung-Nam, South Korea’s envoy to stalled nuclear talks on North Korea, a U.S. official said.
State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Jan. 13 that the talks “will focus on ensuring that we’re well coordinated on our policy towards North Korea” and also look at “broader regional issues writ large.”
The three countries comprise half of the six nations involved in years of diplomacy on North Korea’s denuclearization. The talks also involved China, Russia and Pyongyang itself.
North Korea stormed out of talks in April 2009 to protest what it described as U.S. hostility. It has since sought to resume dialogue, but the United States has insisted that Pyongyang clearly recommit to agreements on denuclearization.
In hopes of keeping open channels of communication, the United States held two rounds of talks with North Korea last year in New York and Geneva.
A third round was reportedly scheduled in Beijing before the announcement of Kim’s death put the process on hold. The North said last week that Washington had offered it food aid and a suspension of sanctions if it halts its uranium enrichment program.
Nuland last week denied that the United States was linking food to politics and said Washington was still considering North Korea’s longstanding requests for food assistance.
“Our decision will be based on our assessment of need and our ability to monitor what we might be able to provide,” she said.
Christian-oriented U.S. aid groups have said for months that North Korea desperately needs food assistance to save lives. But some South Korean policymakers and U.S. lawmakers accuse the North of exaggerating its needs.

Britain To Reduce Nepalese Force Amid Defense Cuts

LONDON — About 400 of Britain’s Nepalese Gurkha fighters will lose their jobs as part of defense cuts, which will include more than 4,000 posts slashed from the armed forces in total, announced on Jan. 17.
The Ministry of Defence said up to 2,900 British army jobs would be axed along with 1,000 air force and 300 navy positions as Britain’s coalition government takes further steps to slash a record deficit.
The steep cuts to the 3,500-strong Gurkha brigade, which has been part of the British army for nearly two centuries, follow a successful campaign in 2009 to win better rights for the Nepalese soldiers.
Led by British actress Joanna Lumley, the campaign won Gurkha veterans who retired before 1997 with at least four years’ service the right to settle permanently in Britain. Lumley on Jan. 17 acknowledged that the government is “wrestling with enormous financial worries” but called the cuts “a tragedy.”
“In these worrying and uncertain times, any serviceman or servicewoman forced out against their wishes is a tragedy,” said the star of the British television comedy “Absolutely Fabulous.” “Any feeling that the Gurkhas are being unfairly hit will cause a great disquiet with people across Britain.”
The Gurkha brigade has been swelling since 2008, when they were granted the right to serve 22 years, compared to 15 years previously.
Dhan Gurung, who fought with the Gurkhas for 18 years, said the cuts discriminated against the brigade.
“If you compare the cuts that have been made to the whole of the army and navy, the strength of the cost cutting on the Gurkhas seems unfair,” he said. “It’s like a form of discrimination towards Gurkhas. The Gurkha people are very loyal, very brave and hard-working people.”
About 200,000 Gurkhas fought for Britain in World War I and World War II, and more than 45,000 have died in British uniform. They have a reputation for ferocity and bravery and are known for their distinctive curved Kukri knives.
Many senior British army posts are also being cut, including eight brigadiers and 60 lieutenant colonels.
Defence Minister Philip Hammond insisted the government had “no choice” but to axe the posts as part of the Strategic Defence and Security Review after the previous Labour government overspent on defense. He said the Gurkha cuts would only affect those with six years’ service or more.
Hammond insisted the British army, which still has more than 9,000 troops in Afghanistan, would be more flexible and responsive after the cuts.
“Difficult decisions had to be taken in the SDSR to deal with the vast black hole in the MoD budget,” he said. “The size of the fiscal deficit we inherited left us no choice but to reduce the size of the armed forces — while reconfiguring them to ensure they remain agile, adaptable and effective.”
“The redundancy program will not impact adversely on the current operations in Afghanistan, where our armed forces continue to fight so bravely on this country’s behalf,” he said.
After the review was carried out in 2010, Prime Minister David Cameron’s Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government said it would cut 17,000 jobs from the army, navy and air force over four years.
The review has also seen Britain give up its flagship aircraft carrier.